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Trooper shoots, kills man who slashed him with scissors in Westmoreland store

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 9:56 a.m.
Police and emergency responders work the scene of a fatal shooting at Save a Lot in East Huntingdon Township Jan. 4. Kelly Vernon | Independent-Observer
For The Courier
State police work the scene of an incident in which troopers shot and killed a man who slashed an officer's head with scissors during a confrontation at 9:15 a.m. Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, at Save a Lot in Crossroads Plaza, East Huntingdon. Kelly Vernon | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania State Police troopers, along with members of Pennsylvania State Police Internal Affairs, investigate an incident that occurred at the Crossroads Plaza in East Huntingdon Township on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Witness Joyce Gales of Connellsville recalls the events of the incident that occurred at the Crossroads Plaza in East Huntingdon Jan. 4, 2013. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
For The Courier
A state trooper photographs evidence at the scene of a fatal shooting at Save a Lot in East Huntingdon Township on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Kelly Vernon | Trib Total Media
For The Courier
A state trooper marks evidence at Save a Lot in East Huntingdon Township on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, following a fatal shooting. Kelly Vernon | Trib Total Media
State police work the scene of a fatal shooting 2013, at Save a Lot in East Huntingdon Township. Kelly Vernon | Independent-Observer
Mt. Pleasant Journal
A state trooper photographs evidence of a fatal shooting in the parking lot of Save a Lot on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Kelly Vernon | Mt. Pleasant Journal
Mt. Pleasant Journal
Markers number the evidence spots in the parking lot of Save a Lot in East Huntingdon Township on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Kelly Vernon | Mt. Pleasant Journal
Seth W. O’Donnell

A state trooper fatally shot a 26-year-old man who slashed the officer with scissors during a confrontation at an East Huntingdon grocery store on Friday morning, police said.

The trooper, whom police have not identified, arrived at the Save a Lot store at Crossroads Plaza outside Mt. Pleasant and warned Seth W. O'Donnell, formerly of Scottdale, to drop the scissors, according to Trooper Stephen Limani of the Greensburg barracks.

After two physical altercations, the trooper used his Taser on O'Donnell, who slashed the trooper, broke free and tried to flee. The trooper then fired at O'Donnell, hitting him in the torso.

“After the suspect was shot, he got up and made it to the parking lot before he collapsed a few steps outside the store,” Limani said.

O'Donnell died in the parking lot.

The trooper is a 10-year veteran of the force whose wound required six stitches, Limani said.

A shopper in the store, Joyce Gales of Connellsville, described O'Donnell as a tall, thin man who was wearing a white cap with earflaps made of animal skin. He was standing near the checkout counter and started to drink a soda and eat snacks that he had not paid for, she said.

“The cashier told him if he was going to eat it, he had to pay for it,” Gales said.

Gales said the confrontation made her uncomfortable, and another clerk opened a second cash register to check her out.

Gales said she witnessed the slashing from the parking lot, and said she saw the trooper bleeding from the head.

Then she heard four shots.

Limani said the trooper who was dispatched to Save a Lot “engaged O'Donnell ... and attempted to calm him” when O'Donnell slashed him as he ran out the door. The trooper fired his weapon to protect himself, Limani said.

The Westmoreland County coroner's office pronounced O'Donnell dead in Excela Health Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday night.

About 15 minutes before the shooting, troopers had been called to the Wal-Mart store about a half-mile away for an incident involving O'Donnell, Limani said.

“We received an initial call from Wal-Mart saying the man was in there acting violently with scissors, and he subsequently moved from that store to the Save a Lot,” Limani said. “There was an earlier confrontation where he threatened customers and employees with scissors.”

Police knew O'Donnell from previous incidents.

In August, O'Donnell was released from jail after serving six months for beating his mother and two others with a 3-pound mantle clock at the mother's East Huntingdon home on Feb. 24.

Judge Debra A. Pezze ordered O'Donnell to continue mental health treatment and to undergo drug and alcohol counseling as terms of his release.

O'Donnell pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of simple assault for attacking his mother, Tammy Tabaj, and Richard Kriger, both teachers at Southmoreland Elementary School. Neighbor Gertrude Pinskey, 83, was injured when she ran to help Tabaj.

Investigators remained at the Save a Lot for more than three hours after the shooting, interviewing witnesses and collecting spent shell casings and other evidence. The front windows were shattered as a result of the gunshots, and numerous evidence markers lay on the sidewalk.

“It's a sad situation when this kind of stuff happens,” Gales said. “You just can't believe it.”

Residents of the Mt. Pleasant Village Mobile Home Park near the Wal-Mart complex said O'Donnell had moved into a mobile home there last month. His neighbors, who declined to be identified, said O'Donnell acted strangely, pacing inside the mobile home for hours.

The day before his death, they said, he jumped through a plate-glass window to enter his home.

Broken glass and bloodstains still littered the window area on Friday.

The shopping plaza was the scene of another fatal shooting nearly 28 years ago.

Trooper Gary Fisher, 26, was killed on Feb. 3, 1985, during an undercover drug buy. Fisher accidentally shot himself with his service revolver as he attempted to arrest a suspect in the snow-covered parking lot. During a scuffle, Fisher slipped, and his weapon accidentally discharged.

Three suspects were charged with homicide, but forensic tests determined the shooting was accidental.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or

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